Much hay has been made about the quick fall into disrepair of the 2016 Olympic Game venues in Rio in the months following the event. This has been compared to similar abandoned structures in past Olympics as well to the point that a prevailing notion now is that becoming an Olympic host city is a curse rather than a blessing. Bidders for future games have become rather slim as a result. Interestingly Tokyo isn’t buying into that idea. Former host and upcoming repeater for 2020, they hope to invert the prevailing negative message into one that is more hopeful, by staging some of the sporting events in Fukushima, which has been most devastated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
CNN has it that Yoshiro Mori, president of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics committee, announced Friday March 17 that they plan to hold baseball and softball matches of the summer games at Fukushima. In his statement Mori explained, “By hosting Olympic baseball and softball events, Fukushima will have a great platform to show the world the extent of its recovery since the disaster.” He also saw the opportunity as a way to thank the many nations and private parties that have extended help to the battered Japanese prefecture and the rest of their country, and alluded that the residents – those who live away from the contaminated areas, at least – are eager to see some of the games hosted close to home.
Not only Fukushima, but Miyagi prefecture as well has been included in the Olympic sporting venues outside of the city of Tokyo itself. It will be set to host matches for Olympic football (soccer). A proposed location for the Olympic baseball matches in Fukushima is the Azuma stadium, a mere 70 kilometers due northwest from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was damaged in the quake and tsunami to the point that radioactive radiation was released onto some areas of the prefecture, causing them to be abandoned for years or decades of cleanup. It has since been shut down and is in the middle of permanent decommissioning.
The brave decision to host some of the Olympic events in still-recovering Fukushima was praised by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, who lauded both Tokyo games chief Mori and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach for using the games as “a vehicle to inspire hope”.
It should be noted that baseball is one of the most popular western sports in Japan, as evidenced by the strong following of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. The country is a strong contender in Olympic baseball since its introduction in 1992, and has always been a regular at semifinal bouts. Though dropped from the list of games since 2008, baseball will make its triumphant return in Tokyo on 2020.